Afghans’ fears quietened but not eliminated by US decision to keep troops through 2016

Last month the Taliban took over the key city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, the first provincial capital to fall to the Islamic insurgent movement.

An internally displaced child from Faryab province stands near her temporary shelter at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp on the outskirts of Herat

A child from Faryab province stands near her temporary shelter at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp on the outskirts of Herat

After weeks of fighting, the group retreated earlier this week.

US President Barack Obama has since recognized the country’s security situation as “very fragile,” prompting a policy U-turn as he vowed Thursday to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of 2016.

Afghan officials and activists have welcomed the change in course.

“This is very important for Afghan security forces,” Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, said.

“It shows commitment from our international partners. It shows they are honest and committed to fight insurgency and terrorism.”

Lately Afghan security forces have been thinly stretched across the country due to a Taliban onslaught in many districts.

NATO-led foreign troops, including the Americans and the Germans, completed their combat mission last year, although they are still involved in a train, advise and assist mission.

The US is in addition carrying out its own counter-terrorism mission.

Western military officials say the Afghan troops seriously lack in air support, logistics, and medical evacuation.

Bari Salam, an Afghan civil society activist, said the US troops continuing their presence in Afghanistan, “from a security point of view, is a positive step for the country, however symbolic it maybe.”

Salam, however, doubted that the pledged number of boots on the ground would be “enough to assist the deteriorating security situation in the country.”

He told dpa a weaker Taliban is needed in order to bring the militants to the table for peace talks, which Pakistan started earlier this year but stopped after the news of the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar became public in July.

Former Taliban official-turned political analyst, Wahid Muzhda, said the decision provides moral support for the Afghan security forces, but echoed Salam’s doubts on whether the military presence would be strong enough to fend off Taliban assertiveness.

Taliban officials were not immediately available for comment, but they have said in the past that the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan was one of the main hurdles for peace talks.

“The US administration should rethink about the level of troops numbers staying in Afghanistan,” an Afghan security said on condition of anonymity.

But he praised the US announcement, calling it “a positive message as an ally of Afghanistan in the fight against terror.”

He also underlined the importance of peace talks with the Taliban.

Obama’s commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, backed the move after having pushed earlier this month for the troops to continue their stay in Afghanistan.

“This decision … serves notice to our common enemies,” he said.

But he stressed the need for a peaceful solution rather than further fighting: “It is time for them to lay down their arms and enter the political process.”



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